Demand for counselling services increased during pandemic

Image Description: The Old Bodleian library from the outside. 

CW: Sexual assault, rape, mental health

The University of Oxford has published a report on how the pandemic affected Oxford University students’ use of Student Welfare and Support Services in the academic year 2019 -20. This includes the use of the Counseling Service, Disability Advisory and Sexual Violence and Harassment services.

Last academic year, 13% of the student population accessed the counselling service which was up 8% from the year before. Demand for services outside of term time increased, from July 2020, weekly out-of-term demand was up by 60-100%.

More students also shared details of health conditions that can be classed as disabilities and the Disability Advisory Service (DAS) saw increased demand, with the largest group within this declaring mental health conditions, and the second largest was those with specific learning disabilities. The University has said that it is keen to continue measures that have made online learning more accessible, such as lecture capture on a long-term basis.

Ethnicity and gender details published by the University reveal that female students are over-represented in DAS users and Asian students are under-represented. The University has announced that in August 2020, more black counsellors joined the Counseling Team as part of the Universities commitment to inclusivity as students of colour continue to access the service.

The Sexual Harassment and Violence Support service, which supports Oxford students who have been affected by sexual violence, saw an increase in its services and the number of users coming forward. Demand for its services increased by 12%, the majority of users are female undergraduates.

It Happens Here is an anti-sexual violence campaign associated with Oxford SU. They support survivors of sexual assault and work to eradicate rape culture within the University. They commented on the increasing number of students coming forward to seek support:

“IHH would express our appreciation and support for the important work the University’s Sexual Violence Service continues to do. Although we’re deeply saddened that students continue to experience anything that makes them need the service, we’re glad that survivors have felt more able to seek confidential advice and help from this incredibly valuable part of the University’s support network, and if anything, that this may indicate fewer people are being kept in silence or are being ignored.”

Rape and sexual assault are the most frequent of the behaviours that the service deals with, making up 50% of cases. 28% of these cases were experiences involving someone external to the University, for example, people seeking support for historic cases.

There is also an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor who supported 62 students at Oxford University in 2019-20. This service also provide advice on reporting experience to the police and navigating criminal proceedings.

Gillian Hamnett, Director of Student Welfare and Support Services, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives including those of University students. Although these statistics reflect only the first few months of lockdown, the impact of the crisis is clear to see, particularly in the increased demand for counselling support outside of term time. We are proud to have been and continue to be able to provide lifelines to our students at such a time of crisis, including 24 hour online mental health support through the Togetherall platform. Supporting the wellbeing, safety and mental health of our student-body is a responsibility that we take very seriously all year round, and not just during timetabled teaching.”

“At Oxford we are working hard to remove the barriers that disabled students face, and while we know there is more to do, the DAS approach to learning has inclusive teaching at its heart which means it is becoming easier for all students to access their teaching and learning.”

“2020 was an incredibly difficult year, and the University is mindful that the pandemic is not the only event that may have affected our students’ wellbeing, particularly the killing of George Floyd and the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. We are working to provide Student Welfare and Support Services that are both accessible and beneficial to students of all backgrounds and ethnicities, so that regardless of their experience all students are able to find the right support they need.”

University welfare provisions can be accessed here, on the welfare and wellbeing section of the Oxford University website, and you can learn more about It Happens Here on the SU website.

Image Credit: Jonas Muschalski